Posted: April 20, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The special election in Brandywine Hundred has been over for six days, but it seems that somebody forgot to tell the Republicans.

They are having a poll taken for them in the 7th Representative District. Polls can be unpredictable, but the chances are good that this one will show Democrat Bryon H. Short beating Republican James T. Bowers, because that is what already happened.

Maybe the Republicans were shell-shocked more than anybody thought when they lost the seat held by Wayne A. Smith, the former House Republican majority leader who resigned, in what they regarded as a safe seat until last weekend.

Whatever else the poll accomplishes, it has amused the Democrats. "If they want to keep spending their money to dwell on past elections, feel free," one Democrat wisecracked.

Smith defended the polling. "I think any smart political party would look for why it had an unexpected outcome in a safe Republican district," he said.

The poll probably will find out what a number of politicians already did during their door-to-door campaigning.

They figured out the Republicans lost because of the fateful coupling of an anti-Republican mood, brought on by such thing as the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the Walter Reed military hospital scandal, with the perception that Smith quit on the district, four months after he was re-elected.

The Democrats did what they could to mine resentment against Smith with hard-hitting campaign literature that showed two houses side by side with this opening text: "Wayne Smith resigned as our representative to become a corporate health care lobbyist, and now he wants us to elect his next-door neighbor?"

There are polls before an election. There are exit polls the day of an election. What is this one? An epitaph poll? Here lies Wayne Smith. He killed the election.

# # #

To the east of the 7th Representative District map, there is an odd-looking indentation. Certain political insiders know it by a name -- the Frances West Gap. It also has a political function -- a gerrymander.

Frances West is a loud Republican, a civic activist and former Cabinet secretary who has been involved in politics since the 1960s, when Brandywine Hundred and its influx of DuPonters constituted the soul of the Republican Party.

Once upon a time, West's house in Indian Field was located in the district. The reason it is not there now goes back to 1992.

The area used to be represented by Charles L. Hebner, a Republican who became the House speaker. West was a strong possibility to run for Hebner's seat as he prepared to retire in 1992, but instead his district was combined with Smith's in the once-a-decade redistricting to account for population shifts.

Smith stayed in the legislature. West was aggrieved. She did things that bugged Smith for the next 10 years. When it came time to redraw the districts for the 2002 election, he was the majority leader, and he exercised a majority leader's prerogative. He carved her house out of the district to create the Frances West Gap.

"When I held the pen, I did what the Supreme Court sanctions and what a lot of politicians have done through the years," Smith said.

To this day, it tickles him, and he has no regrets. West might, though. If Smith had not cut her out, she still would have been in the district when he resigned. "She might well have been a legitimate candidate for the special election," Smith said.

# # #

Along with all of the political literature that deluged the voters, there was a trinket distributed by Bowers' camp, one of those items designed to keep his name in mind.

The Republicans dropped off circle-shaped grippers for opening jars, each one stamped, "Elect Jim Bowers state representative." They were packed in cellophane wrappers that displayed the brand name, "Magic Grip," with a drawing of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Those poor Republicans. The rabbit turned out to be a Democrat.